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Road Signs With Muslims’ Names Defaced, No Action Follows

One of the most popular quotes from Shakespeare is “What’s in a name? A rose by any name would smell as sweet…” The quote is usually made to re-inforce an argument that a ‘name’ really has no meaning or at least no connection with the character or attributes of the person or object or fruit, flower or animal that bears it. What is often forgotten by those using the quote is its context in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet‘. Romeo utters these words not to re-inforce any argument but in a cry of anguish.

In our own country, anyone who thinks that there is nothing in a name is even more naive than Shakespeare’s star-crossed teen lovers. In India, a name is a marker of identity – regional, caste and religious. It has to be revealed in its entirety before two strangers, even when they share something as transient as a train or bus journey, can decide on the contours and limits of a relationship. Here, a name reveals more than it conceals and determines the nature of the bearer more than his or her IQ, looks, character and aptitude. Try telling a Khap panchayat or even many Indian families across communities “What’s in a name?” It would leave them aghast. And if the question was asked by an errant daughter announcing her attachment to a young man from another community, it could lead to anything from incarceration, torture, forced marriage or, even, death.

It is not surprising, therefore, that some Hindutva organizations went about celebrating One Year of the Modi Government in the way that they did. They painted over in black signs for Delhi roads that are named after Muslims. Officials of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation told reporters on May 16 that “Signages of Safdar Hashmi Marg, Feroz Shah Road, Aurangzeb Road and Akbar Road were blackened…We have lodged an FIR for defacement of property.”

The FIR was lodged without mentioning any names despite the fact that posters were pasted on the defaced signboards stating that ‘Bharat mein Islamikaran manzoor nahi. Safar mein mushkilen aaye himmat aur badti hai. Koi agar raasta roke toh zaroorat aur bhadti hai. Jai Hind! Jai Bharat! (Islamisation will not be tolerated in India. Our courage only grows when our journey meets difficulties. Our need only grows when our path meets with obstacles)’. Given below were the names of office-bearers of the organization responsible for this act of vandalism, the Shiv Sena Hindustan.

Votaries of Hindutva claim to believe in real ‘secularism’. They remind us repeatedly that they are not opposed to Muslims as such. Muslims who accept their Hindu origins are treated by them as equal fellow citizens. Muslims who respect Hindu culture and traditions are also completely acceptable. It is only Muslims who are fanatics and have been responsible for atrocities committed on Hindus who are to be deemed anti-national.

It is interesting, then, to take a second look at the four names defaced. The first is that of Safdar Hashmi, an atheistic Communist artist of many talents – theatre person, actor, poet, writer – who was killed by Congress goons while performing for a working-class audience as part of a campaign for a strike action. He could have saved his own skin but he stopped to defend a worker who was also being attacked. As a result, they were both brutally murdered. According to Safdar’s wishes, he was cremated.

The second name is that of Feroz Shah, founder of the Tughlaq dynasty. The third is Akbar, the great Mughal emperor, whose love of knowledge and eclecticism led to his being declared a heretic by several influential Muslim clerics. He was responsible for preserving thousands of manuscripts in Sanskrit and Pali and also arranging for their translation into Persian. The fourth name is that of Aurangzeb who is, of course, a particular object of Hindutva venom.

It is important to understand the mindset behind this act of vandalism. The choice of signage that was defaced makes it abundantly clear that all Muslims are the enemy. Their names are enough to proclaim them as such.

The Delhi Police comes under the jurisdiction of the Home Ministry of the Government of India. No instructions have been given by the Home Ministry to the Delhi Police to take action in the matter despite the fact that a crime has been committed by criminals who have flaunted the fact of their involvement.

How the Modi Government deals with this macabre celebration of its One Year in Office will reveal its own commitment to the Constitution of India.

(Subhashini Ali is former MP, former Member of the National Commission for Women and Vice President of the All India Democratic Women’s Association.)

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